THE FACTS ABOUT THE CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST
SWAMI PREMANANDA

1. The Background to the Case


After the ethnic riots in Sri Lanka in 1983, Swami Premananda[1] and many of his followers came to Tamil Nadu, South India and established a new spiritual and social mission in Fatima Nagar near Trichy.  He established an orphanage, a school for destitute children and various programmes of support and help for the local poor and uneducated. During the early 1990’s Swami Premananda’s reputation grew and people came in great numbers for his blessings and advice.

In 1994, after a heavy press campaign of slanderous accusations, a case was filed against Swami Premananda and some of his close associates[2]. Subsequently, a fabricated criminal case started in November 1994. The two main accusations were rape of girls living in the orphanage and murder of a Sri Lankan, who had lived for a short period in the Ashram.

Swami Premananda and six others were arrested and imprisoned in November 1994. Swami Premananda was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 1997 by the Sessions Court in Pudukkottai. The Chennai High Court (in 2002), and then the Supreme Court (in 2005) confirmed the judgment.

Despite these rulings many questions remain regarding the inconsistency of the accusations made against Swami Premananda. Furthermore, many facts presented by the Defence have never been accepted or properly clarified by the judicial authorities.

The investigation of the case and its very legal status were highly disputable. The way the trial was conducted and the position of the Sessions Court on key points, raise many legal questions. Even the sentence given to Swami Premananda – two life sentences to be run consecutively – is of questionable legality.

2. The Media Campaign Leading to the Arrests


The case against Swami Premananda did not start with a complaint to the police but with a newspaper article that led to a highly defamatory press campaign, which lasted for many months.

A young woman, Suresh Kumari, who had grown up in the Ashram orphanage and a woman resident, Latha, were lured out of the Ashram by promises of material advantages in exchange for lies against Swami Premananda. These two agreed to give interviews to talk about the supposed facts to the press, alleging that Suresh Kumari was a victim of rape in the Ashram premises. The first articles published in the press contained vague and general allegations with regard to misdeeds allegedly committed against the girls in the Ashram.

Many local newspapers saw in this sensational story a very lucrative opportunity for increased sales. In a short period of time, there was an escalation in the publication of articles and the allegations made became more exaggerated.

The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), a Communist-affiliated organisation for the welfare of women, was involved in this defamatory campaign and sent letters and faxes to various authorities of Tamil Nadu requesting investigation of the case. The ruling party in Tamil Nadu ordered the police from Chennai to go to Trichy, 300 km south, and to take over the investigations in the case. Within a few weeks the entire state of Tamil Nadu was flooded by a mass of wild articles accusing the Swami of all kinds of atrocious misdeeds, which created upset and anger amongst the people.

Billboards placed all over Tamil Nadu

Billboards were placed all over Tamil Nadu

 

3. The Rape Case


3.1. First Information Report and Arrest

The First Information Report, which is the primary stage of complaint by an alleged victim that a criminal offence has taken place, was extraordinarily submitted after the story had been given to the press. The first newspaper article had appeared on 5th November 1994, but Suresh Kumari only filed the complaint with the police on 17th November 1994, accusing Swami Premananda of raping her 8 years previously. The mother of Suresh Kumari, Mrs. R. Deivanai, stated in Court that her daughter had been corrupted by others, who wanted to discredit Swami Premananda. She further stated that her children had not complained to her at any time of any abuse by Swami Premananda.

On 19th and 20th November many people were taken away from the Ashram by the police for investigation and inquiries.

In total 20 girls and young women (aged between 14 and 35) were taken away for interrogation. This violates Indian law3 according to which no woman may be taken away from her residence for any kind of investigation or interrogation.

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Senior Counsel for the Accused and former Law Minister of India stated as follows:

“No woman can be required to attend at any place other than the place where the woman resides.
It follows that her statement must be recorded at her home without putting her in a situation where the police can act upon her mind by threats, inducements or promises. The conduct of the police on the 19.11.94 and the 20.11.94 in herding 20 girls and taking them to the police station and examining them there was a flagrant breach of this proviso. The girls were not accused and they could not be arrested. They did not claim to be raped when first contacted at the Ashram. Why were they then removed from their residence and examined at the Police Station and that too not by female police officers but by male police officers? Those girls who did not want to leave the Ashram and did not want to go with the police were forcibly moved from one place to another against their will… Now this breach of law can have three possible consequences:

a) It seriously impairs the value of the evidence of the girls;
b) it renders their evidence at the trial inadmissible;
c) it vitiates the trial.”

 

3.2 Confinement and Torture of the Alleged Victims by the Police

The investigation of the victims’ accounts was in actual fact a two-week detention at the police station, which included habitual beatings and torture of the young women. These brutal and humiliating interrogations were carried out by the police to fabricate a criminal case against Swami Premananda. The 13 witness statementssup>4 that emerged accusing Swami Premananda of rape were the first plank in structuring a basis for the false case against him and the others.

“…Some girls were so badly beaten that they fainted… The police said that if we went against them and spoke the truth they would break our bones and put us in a house for prostitutes…”

(see detailed article by Aruljothi: ‘The True Story About the Case’)

The supposed victims were held against their will under continuous police supervision for more than 2 years up to the end of the first trial. They were detained in homes for destitute women: STEPS institution, Pudukkottai and Udavum Karangal (Helping Hands), Chennai, which are connected closely with the police.

“…Months before we were due to give evidence we were moved to another destitute home in Pudukkottai called Steps. There we were systematically trained to give false stories of the most disgusting nature against Swamiji. Surprisingly, this was done by the lawyers acting on behalf of the police… Even more shockingly, the official Public Prosecutor, Mr. Varadarajan, took part in this fiasco, from which you can understand that entire trial was staged on his part. We had to memorize our lines all night and then repeat them to Inspector Kuppuswamy and the lawyers. It was during this time that Kuppuswamy attacked me, hitting me directly on my eyes with his fists.”

Aruljothi, one of the alleged victims and a key prosecution witness, stated in front of a magistrate, in January 1995 (and subsequently) – that physical and mental violence were used on them to force them to say that they were raped by the accused. The Sessions Court Judgment acknowledged the existence of these beatings and stated:

“…No doubt in Ex.D.10, Prosecution Witness 14 Aruljothi has stated that, ‘only after police have been beaten me and the other girls, we said that Swamiji has raped us.’ Even if such a force was used, such use of mild force might have been essential to bring the Victims out of their self-imposed reluctance and remove them from the fear or grip. Such use of mild force was not to instill fear in the victims impairing their evidentiary value.”

After the trial, following their release from the destitute homes, affidavits were filed in the High Court in Chennai explaining in detail how the alleged victims were tortured and forced to accuse Swami Premananda. However, these statements were ignored.

Most of the young women originally detained, returned to live in the Ashram, and some of the alleged victims even refused financial compensation offered to them by the Court after the Judgment in order to demonstrate that their accusations against Swami Premananda were fabricated and forced from them against their will.

 

3.3 DNA Testing

To prove medically that Swami was raping the girls, a foetus was allegedly aborted from Aruljothi, in January 1995, and examined by a forensic scientist for the prosecution, Dr. Lalji Singh. The prosecution stated that his findings showed that Swami Premananda was the father of this foetus. Since then, Dr. Singh has given evidence in two other similar, highly suspicious, forensic examinations.

The Defence called a DNA expert from the United Kingdom, Dr. Wilson J. Wall a specialist in genetics. The results of his test, done according to international DNA standards (which were not used by Dr. Singh), gave a contradictory statement and proved beyond doubt that Swami Premananda had not fathered this foetus. Dr. Wall’s test results and the scientific explanations given by him were not even considered by the Court.
Dr. Wall’s report to the Court concluded:

“…The conclusion is that it is impossible that accused Premananda, whose blood I extracted before this Honourable Court, is the father of the foetal tissue… My earlier opinion that Dr. Singh’s methodology and conclusions are both wrong is now rendered 100% conclusive by the findings of the UK Laboratory. … When I say that the accused has not fathered this foetus, what I mean to say is that there is not even a chance, or even an infinitesimal chance of him being the father.”

(Dr. Wall’s book ‘The DNA Detectives’5, published in August 2005 highlights the Swami Premananda Case as a prime example of the misuse of DNA evidence)

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Senior Counsel for the Accused and former Law Minister of India stated:

“The sordid fabrication of the Prosecution Witness 14 (Aruljothi) – charge has been fully exposed. It is a sad example of the dirty deeds, which some investigating officers of the Police can resort to for securing conviction of the innocent.

It demonstrates how the tentacles of police influence can corrupt highly placed scientists and drag them down to the police level.

The police guilty of this action must be severely dealt with, so that such characters are eliminated from our police force. For a society governed by the rule of law a totally incorruptible investigating machinery is indispensable. It is equally indispensable that agency must not only be incorruptible but must be believed to be incorruptible by the common man.”

 

4. The Murder Case


The murder charge was added later, after the start of the rape case. Swami Premananda was accused of having killed a Sri Lankan male, Ravi who had been living in the Ashram for a short period of time.

Ravi was mentally ill, medical reports from the Angoda State Mental Hospital, Sri Lanka, where he had been admitted for several years proved he was on heavy medication for his condition. His family gave sworn affidavits confirming his poor state. As a result of his illness he died in the Ashram of natural causes some years previously. Ravi’s family and all the Ashram residents knew about this and the usual ceremonial procedures had been performed after his death.

(See more details in article ‘The Murder Case’ by Ella)

The deceased was however, conversely presented by the prosecution as a scholar with an engineering qualification, who was widely denouncing the Swami’s misdeeds and was therefore murdered by him.

The murder case was brought against Swami on the evidence of the ‘approver’6 Ambikananthan whom the Court claimed joined the Swami and five others in conspiring in the murder of Ravi. The Court gave him a pardon in advance for his part in the alleged offence in return for his telling the ‘truth’.

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Senior Counsel for the Accused and former Law Minister of India stated as follows:

“Normally speaking, when an approver gives evidence, he admits that he was a conspirator and how the conspiracy came to be executed. In this very strange case, approver Ambikananthan denies that he entered into any such conspiracy or that he instigated the murder of Ravi. He also denies being part of any other conspiracy such as rape or concealment of evidence. This is a legal joke, fraud on the law and abuse of the Court’s process.”

Ambikananthan said in Court that his statement about the murder would be supported by four Ashram boys as witnesses. However, the said boys flatly denied what Ambikananthan had said and his own wife went to the Court and gave evidence against him, stating that he was lying about the murder. Other statements given by the prosecution witnesses were also highly contradictory of his account.

The Defence also produced evidence where witnesses stated that Ambikananthan was not even in the Ashram on the day of Ravi’s alleged murder. In addition, forensic tests performed on behalf of the prosecution were clearly contradicted by Dr. Purandare, another eminent scientist for the Defence. However, this evidence was also not considered by the Court. In short, no evidence was delivered in Court that could prove the accusation of murder, supposedly organized by Swami, beyond reasonable doubt.

5. The Trial


The Defence team of Swami Premananda and the others exposed all the above-mentioned points and much more very clearly and in great detail during the trial in the Sessions Court, in the High Court, and in the Supreme Court.

Mr. Ram Jethmalani is revered in India as well as abroad, as a most eminent senior advocate. He defended Swami Premananda in the Sessions Court and in the Supreme Court. At the time of the appeal in the High Court, Mr. Jethmalani was the Law Minister of India and this prevented him from arguing the Swami’s case. All his work and arguments during the case were brilliantly investigated and eloquently demonstrated the above points, amongst many others.

However, all the questions and facts exposed, which could sweep away the theories of the prosecution, were put aside and not given any chance to be elucidated or settled. Legally binding scientific tests and conclusions made by qualified scientists for the Defence were similarly not taken into consideration.

The Session Court Judgment stated:

“Defence Witness 49 (Dr. Wall), called and paid for by the Defence, is heavily tilted in favour of the accused, and hence his evidence and EX.D.98 Report are to be rejected.”

Dr. Wall commented (during an interview 2001):

“We are not partisans, whether we are employed by the Prosecution or by the Defence. Our job is to clear and clarify for the Court, so the Court can come to a valid decision. … The whole use of experts in Court is that it doesn’t matter who employs them, what we are trying to do is help the Court to come to the right conclusion. We are actually for the Court and the Court is there to find out the truth.”

“…If they [two experts] cannot agree, the judge may order retesting to be done. More likely, if the gulf between the two experts were so large, the judge would say – I am not going to accept the DNA evidence in this case at all. If the experts can’t agree, then we don’t know whose evidence to accept and we won’t accept either. And that is the normal practice.”

The statements of the 13 young women and other Prosecution witnesses were full of auto-destructive contradictions and ridiculous declarations. These were duly exposed by the Defence Counsel and by the clear statements of a variety of Defence witnesses of diverse backgrounds and interests. The Court however, rejected their evidence out of hand without any legal basis but vaguely alleged they were all biased. They were rejected on an unknown basis (except for the fact that they were in favour of the accused, which is common sense for a defence witness).

Incoherence of witness accounts, misbehaviour of state agents, illegal procedures during the investigation, and highly questionable contradictions in the various statements of the prosecution, all exposed by the Defence were swept aside. All this prevented the accused from having any fair chance to prove his innocence – which is the basic principle of the Indian common legal judicial system. In short, the Defence has not even been taken into consideration objectively during any stage of the legal proceedings.

Mr. Ram Jethmalani and Swami Premananda at the Sessions Court
Mr. Ram Jethmalani and Swami
Premananda at the Sessions Court

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Senior Counsel for the Accused and former Law Minister of India stated as follows:

“The Honourable Court must steel its mind against the prejudice caused by the media, by politicians and public demonstrations, which continued even while the trial is going on. The Court must remember that judicial courage is part of judicial honesty … Courts exist to proclaim innocence as much as they do for punishing the guilty … The prosecution witnesses do not have a consistent account to put forth. Their discrepant accounts, their falsehoods, their omissions, improvements and contradictions have been discussed in detail… It will be the grossest miscarriage of justice in judicial history if any of the accused is held guilty of this bogus murder, which never took place.”

 

6. The Present Situation

The Sessions Court Judgment stated in this particular case there was to be no remission of sentence or amnesty possible. However, according to the Indian Constitution and the Indian Penal Code, the power to make such a decision does not lie with judicial authorities, but with the Government. Nevertheless, this decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court, even though it is strictly unconstitutional. Clearly, the implicit purpose of this action is that the Accused should never have the chance of coming out of prison ever again.

Today, Swami Premananda is serving his sentence in jail in Tamil Nadu. He is suffering from several serious physical ailments (diabetes, high blood pressure and severe asthma).

Ultimately, in this unique case there lies a deep problem and malevolent design in how the Accused convictions were secured. However, it is not our purpose at this stage to go deeper into this question. Our wish right now is that Swami Premananda, as well as the other accused in this case, should be granted justice and be treated fairly and humanely.

 

1 See article ‘Swami Premananda – His Life‘ for more details

2 The Details of the Six Other Accused Are:

Swami Kamalananda, former Chief Engineer and Ashram secretary:
Twice imprisonment for life to run consecutively and a fine.

Mr. Balendran Shanmugam, devotee and engineer:
Imprisonment for life and imprisonment for ten years + fine. Both sentences to run concurrently.

Mr. Nandakumar Somasundaram, Swami Premananda’s brother:
Imprisonment for life and imprisonment for ten years + fine. Both sentences to run concurrently.

Mr. Sathishkumar Sabaratnam, orphan brought up in the Ashram, engineering degree student:
Imprisonment for life and imprisonment for ten years + fine. Both sentences to run concurrently. And imprisonment for one year (to run concurrently with the ten years imprisonment) and a fine.

Mr. Mayilvaganam Pakkirisami, Swami’s elderly uncle, Treasurer (Sri Lankan Government), died in 2001 – Imprisonment for life

Dr. Chandradevi Kamalanathan, M.B.B.S.:
Imprisonment for two years, 7 months and 2 days (already undergone) and a fine.

 

3 Proviso of article 160 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
4 Article 161 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
5 The DNA Detectives, by W.J. Wall, Robert Hale – London, ISBN 0 7090 7504 9
6 An approver is a person who has taken part in a crime and has been pardoned by the Court for telling the truth.